What Is It Wednesday: Cycle Alert

This week I was tossing around a few ideas for WIIW, I have plenty on bike basics I could write about but then I watched this video and just knew this is what I wanted to share with you this week. As I ride more and more on the road (remember I grew up equating riding in the streets with instant roadkill status?) the more and more I’m thinking about safety. Am I visible? Which is safer – road or sidewalk? Arguments could be made on both sides to that question. Will I see or hear the car rolling up behind me if I am slowing down on a hill or coming to a stoplight? Well this UK company came up with a great idea specifically for those big 18 wheelers, but I see a greater application in mind. Also, is it UK anymore after Brexit or have we gone back to Great Britain, or England – it feels like when you keep calling someone by the wrong name unknowingly. Weigh in below if you know.

Anyways.. watch this short video and let’s discuss how this could impact road safety.

Credit: Cycle Alert

So this company called Cycle Alert posted this video on YouTube about two years ago. Its focus is on the danger that comes with big rig drivers and cyclists sharing the road and the huge blindspots that exist on vehicles like that, especially while turning. It’s bad enough that the blindspots are big enough to hide a car let alone a lone cyclist.

So what Cycle Alert came up with is a RFID tag and receiver system. Cyclists put a tag on their bikes and the truck driver has a receiver outfitted on the outside of the truck and a display mounted on their dashboard. When a cyclist nears one of these equipped trucks, the receiver sends a signal to the display letting the driver know “Hey! You’ve got someone riding on two wheels next to you.” It doesn’t literally say this, but you get the idea. Although, if they ever updated it to include an audible alarm my vote is for Samuel L Jackson to be the voice.

So right now this is a UK based product, and the tags are free  to cyclists (or $14 UK there’s some confusion on their site about this) and the company is working with shipping companies to get them equipped with the receivers. So let’s discuss what works, what doesn’t, and how this could be flushed out to a wider market.

Ok so first off, I think this is an awesome concept that needs refining. For one, the receiver mounts to the outside of the truck on one side, and it’s not clear whether if the cyclist was coming up on your other side if the RFID tag would be picked up or not. They do mention in their video that it works through glass, but I highly doubt it would work unless you had a receiver on both sides and the rear just because of all of the metal encasing the vehicle which just acts as an RFID blocker.

The second major issue that I see plaguing this great concept is that everyone has to opt-in to using it. Cyclists need to put it on their bikes and truck companies need to equip it on their fleets. Kudos to the companies in the UK that already have done so because it’s not just about keeping cyclists safe, it keeps their drivers safe as well, no driver wants to experience something as tragic as hitting a person just because they couldn’t see them. But all of the truck driving companies could have them on their vehicles and it still won’t work unless all bikes are also equipped with the tags. And then you have an environment where drivers may get used to and rely on the device and not check their blindspots for tag-less cyclists (or vice versa for cyclists, but I have a feeling cyclists are a little more cautious considering their the smaller of the two).

The way I see this being a viable option is if it gets built into road safety infrastructure. Make all new cars (not just trucks) come equipped with the sensor and display, and make all new bikes come equipped with the tag itself. Then all you have to do is offer upgrade kits to cyclists and motorists without new bikes and cars. But how can we take this one step further? On their site it mentions they are still fine tuning the system and they also offer other products for motorists with cycle safety in mind such as cameras and turn sensors.

But why not integrate something that already exists in some newer bike computers? Garmin, and a few other companies, already have radar built into some of their units that alert cyclists to oncoming motorists. I’ve even seen some systems that connect to the taillight causing it to blink differently as the car nears. There are several brands of helmets with LEDs on the rear that have a built-in accelerometer that changes the blinking pattern to solid as you slow down to alert riders and drivers behind you.

I say all of that to say this. Instead of having three or four products keeping us safe, visible, and aware – why not just one? What I am hoping Cycle Alert or any other company can do is get car manufacturers to build in cyclist detection even in their non-luxury offerings, and get bike companies to build in these tags as well as an alert system for the cyclist. Basically – make it standard on both sides. Incentivize it if you have to by providing a discount on car insurance if your vehicle is equipped with it.

But that’s just me, what other systems have you seen out there that are working to keep both drivers and cyclists safe on the road?